“do one thing”

It has taken me a journey of thirty-one years and 7,700 miles from my birthplace to discover the single most powerful phrase in the English language. I did not learn it in the thousands of books I’ve read, through the thousands of hours of television I’ve watched, or from a loinclothed guru high in the Himalayas. No: the most powerful phrase in the English language is in common use in nearly every meeting, every debate, every exchange of ideas in India.

“Do one thing.”

You cannot dilute the power of these words — no matter how many times you hear it in the same meeting. Forty-five minutes of debate over whether the headline should be set in 24- or 26-point type instantly ceases as every head swivels towards the person who uttered the magic word. Mouths snap shut, eyes peer expectantly, and every mind thinks the same thought: “Someone’s figured out what to do next!”

“Let’s do one thing,” says Pankaj. “Let’s order both veg and non-veg.”

“Do one thing,” says Murali. “Set the headline in Times New Roman.”

“You have carpal tunnel? Do one thing,” says Shilpa. “Adjust your chair higher, put something underneath your feet, and put the keyboard on your lap.”

One thing can be ten things, but it’s still one thing: it’s clarity. It’s an answer. It’s a solution. It’s a way to move forward. “Do one thing” is so powerful because it implies an exit from this mess. “Do one thing” means that debate is over and it’s time for action. To argue with “do one thing” is to be against progress, against action. A “do one thing” solution is one that is presented not for consideration but for execution.

It works. It’s amazing. For twenty minutes you’ll be mourning the TV shows you’ll be missing and the dinner that will be getting cold because the meeting about the new tagline for the new server product will never end; and then suddenly someone utters the magic words, and you’re on your way home with simple clarity as to what has to happen next. “Do one thing” works even when “one thing” is as nonsensical as being tasked to “find a word for ‘IT’ that doesn’t invoke images of technology.” No one in the meeting realizes how impossible the task is because how hard could it be? All you have to do is do one thing.

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48 responses to ““do one thing”

  1. Lol! This “do one thing” is indeed the cure for all ills…..good one!

    Cheers,
    Quirky Indian
    http://quirkyindian.wordpress.com

  2. “One thing can be ten things, but it’s still one thing: it’s clarity. It’s an answer. It’s a solution. It’s a way to move forward.”

    Agreed. Absolutely true. It’s an expression of resolute, confirmation & confidence.

  3. Lol…..despite being Indian I never ever reaslised the power of ‘Do One thing’ ! You are so bang on – loved reading this – do one thing …keep posting more :)

  4. chris breshears

    An amazing post. There is a self help book in there.

  5. Very canny observation indeed. :-)

    I am sure over time, you will meet some Indians who have strenuously avoided using these all-encompassing (‘motherhood and apple pie’?) soothers, through their lives.

    When you meet those Indians, you will, I am certain, notice the absence of these one-liners. The technical expression used in North India is ‘taqia qalam’; it means “words that are said habitually, sometimes deprived of any meaning, sometimes imbued with meaninglessness”.

  6. Hey,

    when are you guys going to do a post on bollywood stars?

  7. Brilliant post! Love the power of “Do one thing” :)

  8. Is ‘do one thing’ like the Nike slogan ‘just do it?’

    *It’s like at work: always do the one thing you don’t want to do first. I never do that, but, if asked, that is the advice I am going to give.

  9. But one must take care to “Do the Necessary” when “Doing One Thing”

  10. Do one thing, call your mother. :)

  11. Another similar one to this “Tell me one thing”, we Indians use it during heavy discussions! Your post was hilarious but so apt!

  12. This is a very nice post. In Marathi, it translates to “ek kaam ker”, and my family says it often, in English as well. I never thought of it in quite this way, though.

  13. I love this. I think it’s a phrase that could serve me well. As ever, thank for your writing.

  14. It’s a literal translation into English of the phrase, “Ek kaam karo”. We Indians are always translating directly from our mother tongues into English. “Ek baat batao” or “Ek cheez batao” = “Tell me one thing”. Another staple of our hybrid bhasha.

  15. I like this philosophy, and I am going to give it a try.

    I think it is a good way to get yourself started or to focus.

    I like @sands who said during an argument “tell me one thing” – I will try that, too.

  16. :-U can’t take the Indian out of Indian English

  17. Today is your lucky day. Your blog’s just been felicitated. By me. Please stop by and collect your award.
    *T&C apply!*

    Cheers,
    Quirky Indian
    http://quirkyindian.wordpress.com

  18. Haha. Wow, I know I’ve heard this phrase a thousand times at work but I never stopped to think much about it. Thanks for the clarification in this post. Great reading.

    http://www.chickenmonkeydog.com

  19. This is really funny. It’s always the non-native speakers who can make such an observation.

    It is indeed a literal translation from some Indian languages, as some readers have suggested.

    Do one thing – keep on making such observations. :-)

  20. My husband says this all the time! I thought it was just him…guess not.

  21. ROFL. What an observation. I must watch out for it….

  22. Pingback: dave’s contribution to indian culture « Our Delhi Struggle

  23. Do one thing: keep reporting on more translation idiosyncracies…

    this was really hilarious and one of your best posts.

    Enjoyed your blog.

  24. HAHAHAAHHA. this was brilliant!

  25. Siddharth Agrawal

    Great one. My mother used the phrase no less than three times in the last 36 hours.

  26. I think Hindi when converted into English takes time for others to understand if they do, while Hindi speaking people simply convert it in to their mind “ek kaam karo”. I wonder sometimes why did I not get the replies I expected from Goras even though I speak good English.

    • I agree!

      And then I would realize.. oops – gora! wouldnt have ever heard of this!

      ever heard of “pre-poning”??… its actually advancing.. :)

      while at summer school i would say “haan” (yes) all the time not realizing its hindi!

  27. Man, I seriously hope you’re kidding about liking the phrase, “do one thing.” You don’t know how much I hate it when somebody tells me to “do one thing” in the middle of a conversation. Especially government employees at places like the DMV, when they tell me to “do one thing” and come back tomorrow.

    Whenever I hear somebody say that I feel like doing only “one thing” and that is to kick the guy who said it in the balls.

    “NO I WON’T DO ONE THING MISTER, I’LL DO TWO THINGS. BUT I’LL START OFF BY KICKING YOU IN THE BALLS!!!”

    Yeah that is how much I hate that phrase.

    Speaking of Indian English, have you ever noticed the phrase, “Like that Only.”? Yeah, apparently we use that a lot too. But I have no problem with that. I’m actually cool with it. In fact I like saying it too.

    Somebody: Hey, man! Why did you kick me in the balls?!

    Me: Like that only.

    End of conversation. What possible question can you follow with after that kind of remark?

    Abdu
    (http://abdusalaam.blogspot.com)

  28. Hey, I just found this site from Boing Boing.

    Great stuff.

    LOL, I just realized. I say ‘let’s do one thing’ too :)

  29. I love this phrase too. You have to have the hand gesture and apologetic head nod to go along with it, too, for maximum effect.

  30. Oh my god! I absolutely love this! It is so true! We really do say that a lot!

  31. I think this makes more sense in the English phrase “Do something”. “Do one thing” has more of a connotation of “Do one specific thing and do it well”, while “Do something” has more of the meaning of “If you’re stuck, just do /something/ and it will get you unstuck”.

    Your usage of “Do one thing” also dovetails into the phrase which is the basis of GTD, which is “What is the next action?”. This allows you to determine what is the next thing you need to do on a project, which also seems to be what you are describing “Do one thing” to mean.

  32. stupid observation

  33. squarecutatul

    “Do one think” is indeed a literal translation of the hindi phrase “Ek kaam karo”.

  34. Pingback: 50 Things That Matter | Ross Hudgens

  35. lol! never noticed…probably i did do the set of ‘one’ thing ;)

  36. Pingback: The Ultimate Guide to Motivation | Ross Hudgens

  37. A “do one thing” solution is one that is presented not for consideration but for execution.” So true!

    When I first heard this phrase (I’m from Australia) I thought it was characteristic of one elderly gentleman I’d met. It just seemed so quirky. Though meant to be helpful, it somehow made me feel uneasy because it seemed like I was being commanded. I’ve since learned that Indians speaking English often come across as if commanding you to sit or stand or wait, or do whatever. When I kept hearing “do one thing” I started to find it amusing as I realized it was just a useful phrase. I live in Orissa and I have to admit I still react badly in certain conversations because I think people are commanding me, but it’s just the way people speak.

  38. LOL. Nice blog you have there.. Keep it up.

    and oh.. Do one thing, try getting a your book filmed into a hollywood movie . :p

  39. OK,I will explain how “do one thing ” appear during talks in India.Its a literal translation of a genaral short sentence being used in many indian languages.For example there is something caled “ek kaam kar” in hindi and “oru kaaryam cheyy” in malayalam.The literal meaning is “do one thing”.This particular phrase would be used when ever a conversation drags without any apparent conclusion in sight;then someone with leadership skills would promptly say ‘do one thing’ just to give the dying conversation a new life.
    -sree,bangalore

  40. Wow! This was over two years old, and is still alive in the Indian context. Really, never realised how much we abuse these words. :)

    Great observation!

  41. Pingback: A book. Not THE book, but A book… | Our Delhi Struggle

  42. Pingback: Do one thing « Christopher Saul's Blog

  43. I was born in London and have lived here my entire life. Despite living with my (India born) parents for over thirty years, I never picked up on this phrase until recently joining an Indian software vendor in the UK.

    Friends and family alike have recently commented in astonishment on my newly adopted vernacular! “Do one thing”, the over-use of the address “sir” for everyone and ending many sentences with the word “only” have all weasled their way into my day-to-day speech. Worrying! Worst of all, I have found my head bobbing/nodding sideways everytime I agree with someone now!
    Somebody, please do one thing, and make this stop! I am losing control of my English shenglish!

  44. and then there’s “please do the needful” :)

  45. Charmian Brian-O'Brien

    haha i came to this page a couple of years ago, as until early this year had lived in India for 15 years or more, so i quickly related to the ‘do one thing’ having heard it many times. I thought the ‘only’ on the end of a sentence was connected with someone who was selling me something, and I would always laugh, repeating ‘only’ back to the shopkeeper or salesman, only 50 rupees. . . yeah, sure. . .

  46. do one thing. its nice…..
    here is another one minute

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